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A former senior managing director and three other officials of Nippon Shinpan Co. pleaded guilty Tuesday to paying off a “sokaiya” corporate extortionist so the racketeer would not disrupt the company’s shareholders’ meetings.

The racketeer, Kikuo Kondo, 60, who allegedly received 27.5 million yen in his bank account from Nippon Shinpan between late 1999 and September, also pleaded guilty in the first trial session for the case at the Tokyo District Court.

The former senior managing director, Yoshihisa Oshio, 63, and the three other indicted Nippon Shinpan officials were in charge of the leading consumer credit company’s general shareholders’ meetings.

“I would like to apologize for causing such a disturbance to the public, as well as forcing my subordinates and their families to go through many hardships,” Oshio said after entering his plea.

The four were indicted on charges of violating the Commercial Code by paying Kondo “advisory commissions.”

Sokaiya, who hold nominal share stakes in their target firms, specialize in extorting money from companies by various means, including blackmailing firms over embarrassing information and threatening to disrupt shareholders’ meetings. They also run protection rackets by promising to keep other sokaiya away.

During Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors said Nippon Shinpan began paying Kondo around 1975. Instructions to continue this relationship were passed on over the years to successive senior officials in charge of general affairs.

When the relationship began, Nippon Shinpan paid Kondo several hundred thousand yen in “contributions” each year. At the time, the firm was having problems with some of its clients and relied on Kondo to ensure that its shareholders’ meetings ran smoothly.

Prosecutors said a formal adviser contract was signed between the two parties in 1988, after which Kondo began to check participants at shareholders’ meetings and prevent antagonistic racketeers from disturbing the proceedings.

He also helped Nippon Shinpan amass slush funds that were used to pay off other sokaiya by pretending to loan them money, they added.

Kondo’s fee was initially 250,000 yen a month but jumped to 900,000 yen in 1990, they said.

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